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April 17, 2008

Libel no longer a rich man’s game – and rightly too

By Dominic Ponsford1

The stage is set for another series of possibly huge media libel payouts following news that Madeleine McCann suspect Robert Murat is proposing to sue multiple media outlets over their coverage of him.
It is very likely that Murat, who is not a rich man, was able to take the media on with the help of a no-win, no fee-deal.
Although Press Gazette is campaigning against the excesses of such Conditional Fee Agreements, it is broadly right that people like Murat should, as the law says, have access to justice.
The best way to avoid huge payouts, like the one which recently went to Madeleine’s parents, is for journalists to get the basics right and not repeat libellous allegations. And we need to remember that, thanks to CFAs, anyone we are writing or broadcasting about can and probably will sue if we libel them.

What a breath of fresh air incoming Independent editor Roger Alton is. He’s taking on what must be one of the toughest jobs in national newspaper journalism – the editorship of The Independent. Asked what his thoughts are about it, forget the corporate bullshit. He told Press Gazette this week: ‘I’m waking up very early in the morning sweating with panic”.
But don’t be taken in by his self-deprecating schtick – if anyone can take the Indy successully into the next era of its still relatively young 22-year life, Alton can.
At 60 he could easily have taken up a few lucrative columns and enjoyed a life of relative ease before picking up his generous Guardian pension.
But instead he chose to take the reins at the Indy. The reason? Alton knows that journalism is great fun and he intends to enjoy himself.
The quality newspaper market battle looks set to get interesting.

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